Canada's coolest hotel warms hearts

Guests huddle for warmth in sleeping bags on beds of ice, bonnets pulled over their ears to prevent frostbite, while sipping cocktails in glasses also made of ice.

This winter wonderland on the outskirts of Quebec City has become one of Canada's hottest attractions and most sought out accommodations.

A cool place to host a memorable wedding or for a romantic getaway, the Quebec Ice Hotel has attracted 600,000 curious tourists, including 30,000 who stayed overnight, since opening seasonally 11 years ago.

Like Victoria and Jeremy Martin, dozens of couples will exchange vows this winter in a temporary chapel adjacent to the hotel, sculpted entirely from blocks of ice with pews covered in furs.

"There's something I like more than being a little bit chilly ... it's (cuddling up for warmth) with somebody you love," says Victoria, sporting a fur hat, visiting with her fiance from the northeastern US state of Massachusetts.

Average temperatures fall below minus 20 degrees C (minus four F) in winter, but inside the hotel's 36 rooms it is relatively cozy.

Thick walls of packed snow and ice act as an insulator, trapping body heat inside. It is a building method conceived by Inuit who built igloos in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland out of blocks of snow in the winter.

First-time guests of the hotel, however, are recommended to stay only one night as sleeping in sub-zero temperatures is not very refreshing.

This year for the first time the ice hotel has teamed up with a bricks and mortar Quebec City hotel to offer packages for one night accommodations at each. Prices for one night only at the ice hotel start at 200 dollars per person.

"The place is an architectural feat," said a review from New Yorker "jblifeguard" on travel website tripadvisor. "Sleeping basically in an oversized igloo in freezing cold temperatures is a crazy experience. Do it. You won't have to do it again."

The 3,000-square-metre (32,300-square-feet) hotel, spa and chapel take six weeks starting in December to build, using 15,000 tonnes of snow and 500 tonnes of ice, at a cost of some 750,000 dollars.

Each room is uniquely decorated, using designs created by Quebec architecture students. Two hotel bars also sell exclusive cocktails in ice glasses.

"The aesthetic and organization reflects French North American culture," commented Jacques Desbois, who founded the hotel.

So-called snow plasterers stay on through to the end of March to patch up any blemishes caused by changes in temperatures.

"It's an elaborate winter dance. With electricians, a snow team and an ice team we manage to build and maintain the fragile structure," says Serge Peloquin, the hotel's artistic director.

But it is also fleeting. Eleven weeks after its seasonal grand opening, the hotel will close on March 27 and then melt away with the arrival of spring.